Is it me, or is nothing made quite the same anymore? I know, I sound like a dad, but bare with me and think of cameras. Today, like computers, cameras are soon improved upon, superseded and out of date. I suppose this isn't limited to just camera - watches, furniture, clothes, cars. Its a little sad to me, not just for the environment and cost considerations. More so the impact this has on our ability to tell to connect with our past, with people we never knew, generation to generation. To pass on and object is to pass on a story; stories allow us to connect more deeply through our sense of touch, smell and sight.
A fisherman I once worked with said the tools he had would easily out last him, providing they were well maintained. He usually said this whilst posturing to his treasure chest of old tools, some of which must be a hundred years old.
I recently made a documentary with said fisherman, at 72 years in age he never throws anything away. His entire store is made from scrap. Some of his tools out date him. A drill he told me about was given from a father to son, it worked just as well today, as the day it was made. I like to imagine that box of tools connected him to the fisherman who preceded him, maybe that point has never been more relevant as the 72 year old is the last of a long line of fisherman. Through the daily use of these tools connect him and all who uses them to the traditions of the past, to the people and our heritage.
I'm drawn to this idea of loss, a loss born out of time and change. Perhaps its why Aikido is now the focus on my next film. A traditional art being passed from generation to generation, by hand, each person improving, alternating, developing but at the sometime respecting what went before it. I also think its one reason I'm a photographer. I love old cameras, they have battle scars, history and a story to tell. Perfection is off putting, in people, art, things. Give me a wrinkle to botox, a grey hair to hair dye anyday!
This brings me to the Voigtländer Vag, or what I believe to be a Vag, please correct me if I am wrong. Basically a folding plate drop-bed camera for the ambitious amateur. Manufactured from 1920 by Voigtländer of Braunschweig, Germany.
I was given the camera by my Aunty, a family friend who is inseparable from family. It belonged to her older brother Denny, a quick witted, intelligent young man who in the 1940s studied agriculture. He aspired to travel aboard to exotic locations to help indigenous people cultivate crops in difficult land and conditions.
Denny got his chance to travel. But not in a way most of us would prefer. My Aunty still remembers the shouts of their father when Denny broke the news he had joined the Army to become an officer.
After training he deployed to India with the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. He never came home, he died in Burma, berried close to a remote village that was home to his batman (manservant to an officer).
The Voightlander was part of his possessions that eventually got shipped back home to his family. It stayed in a box, never used, rusting and gathering dust. I think the memory of going through Denny's things was a little too much for the family to take, its only recently my Aunty has had the courage to go through his possessions. Its then she found the camera.
She gave the camera to me as a gift, but it isn;t mine, it will always be Denny's. Its been passed from one generation to another. Its story has deepened my understanding of my Aunty, her family situation, her pain. More so, through this beautiful piece of machinery I am connected to a person I never knew, to a country far away and war that I never saw.
Passing on items that have a story is a way of being able to travel back in time, to understand and connect to people who don't exist anymore. At the same time we strengthening the bonds we have with the people who are still here.
So back to my worries. I worry that if nothing is made to last, and nothing is passed on, future generations don't just loose a beautiful piece of photographic history. They loose an opportunity to understand thus connect.
Connection is life, and to understandings where I wish to go in the future means being aware of where I come from.